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The construction of the Ord River Dam was completed in 1971 by the American Dravo Corporation. The dam was officially opened the following year. The dam is 335 metres long, and 98 metres high. The earth-fill only dam wall at Lake Argyle is the most efficient dam in Australia in terms of the ratio of the size of the dam wall to the amount of water stored. The lake was named after the property it partly submerged, Argyle Downs.
In 1996, the spillway wall was raised by 6 metres, which doubled the dam's capacity. Sediment flowing into the dam caused concerns in the mid 1990s that the dam's capacity could be dramatically reduced. By 2006 continual regeneration of the upper Ord catchment appeared to have reduced the amount of sediment inflow.
Lake Argyle normally has a surface area of about 1,000 square kilometres. The storage capacity, to the top of the spillway is 10,763,000 megalitres. The lake filled to capacity in 1973, and the spillway flowed until 1984. Lake Argyle's usual storage volume is 5,797,000 megalitres, making it the largest reservoir in Australia. The combined Lake Gordon/Lake Pedder system in Tasmania is larger but is two dams connected by a canal. At maximum flood level, the lake would hold 35 million megalitres of water and cover a surface area of 2,072 square kilometres.
Lake Argyle, together with Lake Kununurra, is part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. There are currently some 150 square kilometres of farmland under irrigation in the East Kimberly region. The original plan was for dam water to irrigate rice crop for export to China. However these plans were scuttled as waterfowl, particularly magpie geese ate rice shoots quicker than they could be planted. Other crops are now grown, but Lake Argyle still remains Australia's most under-utilized lake.
Flora and fauna
The damming of the Ord River has caused major changes to the environment.
Flows to the Ord River have been severely reduced. Within Lake Argyle itself a thriving new eco-system has developed. The lake is recognised as an important wetland area under the Ramsar Convention; with Lake Kununurra it forms the Lakes Argyle and Kununurra Ramsar Site.
The lake is now home to 26 species of native fish and a population of freshwater crocodiles currently estimated at some 25,000. Fish species that are present in Lake Argyle include barramundi, southern saratoga, archer fish, forktail cat fish, mouth almighty, long tom, bony bream and sleepy cod.
Cane toads reached the dam in late 2008, mostly via traveling along the Victoria Highway, with numbers rising significantly during the 2009 summer.
The lake, with its surrounding mudflats and grasslands, has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it supports about 150,000 waterbirds. Birds for which the lake has global importance include Magpie Geese, Wandering Whistling-ducks, Green Pygmy-geese, Pacific Black Ducks, Hardheads, Black-necked Storks, Australian Bustards, White-headed Stilts, Red-capped Plovers, Oriental Plovers, Black-fronted Dotterels, Long-toed Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.
The Kununurra Historical Society
which is a completely volunteer run Archive, Library, Museum and Research facility
KHS Archive, Library, Museum & Research Facility
72 Coolibah Drive, Kununurra
(100 metres from the Post Office).
If you are in Kununurra please visit our Museum and soak up some Ord River history.
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Disclaimer: The information provided on this web site is for use as a guide only.
If you are planning to undertake this trip YOU MUST SEEK OUT other authoritative advice and information - eg visitor centres
Outback travel can be a very exciting adventure but it also can be very hazardous especially off road and in remote and isolated areas.
Your Outback trip should only be undertaken after lengthy and careful planning, plus having plenty of water, fuel, food, working communication devices etc
Understand the distances between fuel stops by ringing ahead and checking with the roadhouses, cattle stations and visitor centres - that what you want is at the next stop.
Understand what is the best time of year to travel and what is not, understand your vehicle and its capabilities and how to repair it plus have spare tyres (Min 2 extra)
The owners of this website shall not be held responsible for any damage, injury or death that you may experience during any trip on or off the roads of the Kimberley
You are responsible for your own actions.